1- Hello Linda, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m originally from Wisconsin and moved to the east coast at 28 for my career. I worked in both the greater Philadelphia area and New York City, and I’ve lived on the east coast ever since. I’ve worked for global beauty companies including Revlon and Coty Inc. where I had a career in sales and marketing. I launched many iconic fragrance brands, including Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Halle Berry’s fragrances. One of the best parts of my career was providing mentorship and career guidance for many talented employees and colleagues who work in the beauty industry today. I’ve always loved a challenge, so when I was invited by my husband to climb mountains with him and his two daughters, I accepted the challenge, and off we went to the Himalayan, Yosemite and Mt. Kilimanjaro mountains for climbing. I also have a love of travel and new experiences and I was fortunate that my career allowed me to travel and experience different cultures around the world.
2- What are your focus areas and why?
The original focus for the business was to help women artisans which would allow me to make a difference in the world, and that remains my key focus area. A second key focus is that, in 2007 my husband’s father passed away, and as a homage to his father’s fierce belief in education, opening a school for the local children in his ancestral village of Chanchali, India seemed like a perfect gift. At first we ran classes in the community building, but when we realized 75 village children were attending, we knew we needed to build the school. This took a lot of time, money, and the typical issues of endless red tape. We bought land, hired an architect, and after three years of building, the SVV School opened in 2012. During that time we also started the 501c(3) process, and received tax-exempt status in 2014. The Helping Children Succeed Foundation supports the school (http://www.SVVIndia.org). The SVV School is available to the children after they attend their regular school day, as it is meant to supplement the children’s primary education and to better prepare them for a brighter future.
3- How do you describe your journey in few words?
Although working in corporate America paid the bills, allowed me to learn business skills and meet many wonderful people who remain friends to this day, I can honestly say that running my own business has allowed me to be true to myself in ways I never imagined! I still work 10-12 hours every single day, and have not taken a real vacation since I left Coty in 2014 but as the saying goes – when you love what you do it does not feel like work!
4- Where do you think you are making an impact?
I’m making an impact in several ways – first, by contracting with women artisans who are paid fair wages for their handicrafts, and second, by donating a percent of our net proceeds to the Helping Children Succeed Foundation. I like to say it’s our way of adding love and equality to every purchase!
5- Can you tell us about “Sitara Collections”?
The Sitara Collections story starts with a series of trips to India that I took with my husband Vinay, beginning in 2007. There I met artisans and small entrepreneurs in rural villages whom I could see worked hard and tirelessly to earn a living. I wanted to help them, and with my marketing background in the beauty industry, I felt I could. I also fell in love with the gorgeous, handmade jewelry the artisans were making, and that was the premise for starting Sitara Collections. I started Sitara Collections not only to bring this beautiful handcrafted jewelry to the global marketplace but also to help empower the artisans and their communities.
As a social enterprise, we are committed to empowering artisans and pay them fair wages for their work. I developed a business model that honors the skilled artisans who produce the jewelry, as well as make the line affordable to customers. The jewelry is reasonably priced because there’s no middleman. The artisans, too, are getting paid a very fair price for their work, and they enjoy a higher level of profit. I like to view Sitara Collections as a resource to connect consumers with craftspeople who often work in remote areas of the world. Today, Sitara Collections is a notable fair-trade retail and wholesale company recognized for wellness products, handmade jewelry, and unique gifts.
6- Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Scaling the business is a key priority for me, and establishing Sitara Collections as a well-known brand is important. Building a brand from scratch takes a lot of time, money and effort, and for me, it has been a labor of love. I would also like to see Sitara Collections become an authority on helping people with healing their mind, body and spirit in meaningful ways.
7- What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered while working on “Sitara Collections”?
One of the biggest challenges has been communicating with artisans who don’t computers, don’t speak English, or require large minimum order quantities. I’ve also had to change my website platform multiple times –I’m now using Shopify and happy I’ve made the change but with each change comes SEO challenges and, for an online business, as you have to start all over again to get first page search engine rankings, so that has been a key challenge I’ve been focusing on lately.
8- What can you tell young people who are pursuing their dreams?
I would say never give up, and if you need to pivot, do so to get your business back on track. Keep reinvesting your profits in your business as it all adds up. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or get a mentor to help your through the tough times. Finally, continue to learn by listening to podcasts, watching videos and reading books to understand your industry and how to grow and scale your business. Technology and the internet is making it easy for anyone to open and run an online business and it is never too late to get started.
9- What are you most excited about at the moment?
I’ve recently added Ayurvedic products to Sitara Collections, and other products including candles, scent therapies, and handmade soaps for healing the mind, body and spirit. I’d like to help be a voice in helping to remove the negative energy and pain that has pervaded our democracy. As a company built around connecting consumers with fair-trade, artisan-made gifts and jewelry, one new product that I was quick to welcome to our product line up was Zekhara Naturals Soaps. After seeing for ourselves the outstanding quality of the soaps, as well as learning about the organization behind Zekhara Naturals, we couldn’t wait to make them available to our customers. Zekhara Naturals soap lineup is crafted by enthusiastic women and girls from Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES); a school for girls in one of the poorest areas of northern India. Founded in 2000 by Virendra (Sam) Singh, a retired head of DuPont South Asia, PPES transforms the lives of the most vulnerable members of society—rural girls—by providing education and employment for graduates. Students also receive medical care and are taught to learn simple body-hygiene practices like handwashing and tooth brushing that keep them healthy. For more information, visit www.sitaracollections.com
10- The last word or final thoughts?
Always be true to yourself and go after your dreams.
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